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Thursday, 18 September 2014

Seán O’Casey

Most people that have gone through the Irish second-level educational system in the past couple of decades will be familiar with the works of Seán O’Casey. His plays still feature on the Leaving Cert syllabus, and the vibrancy contained in the writing has by no means faded over the years.

Cyril Cusack and Siobhan McKenna preparing for Cusack's production of 'Juno and the Paycock',
17 June 1956 
This week on 18 September marks the 50th anniversary of O’Casey’s death. He was never a person willing to pull his punches or compromise on his beliefs and, as a result, he left behind a complicated legacy. Over the years, as the power in Irish society shifted away from the church and civil war politics, it became possible to appreciate O’Casey’s plays from a more neutral standpoint.

O’Casey was born in Dublin, and witnessed first-hand many of the scenes of poverty made famous by his trilogy. He was a committed socialist, and a personal friend of Jim Larkin also. He was also acquainted with WB Yeats, who was instrumental in having O’Casey’s plays staged at the Abbey, despite their controversy at the time.

A scene from 'The Plough and the Stars' at the Abbey Theatre,
19 April 1955
This relationship with Yeats and the Abbey came to an end when they rejected The Silver Tassie. O’Casey took the play to London’s Apollo Theatre, and he remained living in the city for the rest of his life with his wife Eileen, whom he had met there.

O’Casey continued to write prolifically, even producing an autobiography in six volumes. His own anger and bitterness towards the socio-economic environment in Ireland and the resulting conservatism is more than evident in these books, but so is his innate talent as a writer.


If you would like to read some extracts from his autobiographies, the East Wall for All website are publishing an extract every week this year. Feel free to come back here and post the sentences from the extracts that struck you underneath this post.